Why You Should Get Involved in Community Gardens

Community gardens are a growing addition to many urban neighbourhoods. They provide a space for bartering, collaboration, education, and sometimes pizza! Across Canada, communities are extending their shared spaces to include pizza ovens, beehives, yoga classes, and gardening lectures.

Most gardens encourage family members of all ages to participate. The multi-generational approach allows for ideas and resources to be shared with greenhorns and green thumbs alike. And as more and more Canadians show interest in pursuing self-sufficiency and food security by growing their very own menus, it’s time to get involved!
Just keep in mind that COVID-19 may impact how some gardens operate. Your local municipality should have more information on their website.

History 101: The wartime victory gardens

During WWII, “victory gardens” (homegrown vegetable gardens) were promoted by the U.S. and Canadian governments to help alleviate food shortages. Any available greenspace was cleverly converted into a garden. In 1943, Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt famously ploughed up the front lawn of the White House to plant her own victory garden. Michelle Obama followed suit, championing the movement supporting sustainable food sovereignty and independence.

I have a pair of gardening gloves. Now what?

While every community garden operates differently, garden plots are generally individually allotted or shared. Plot ‘owners’ are responsible for providing the seeds or plants, watering, and maintaining their allotment. The collectives rely on donations of tools, seeds, rain barrels, and sweat equity.

Community gardens usually have an appointed administrator or volunteer responsible for assigning plots, waivers, sharing updates, and reminders to members about their roles. Many have a Facebook page or forum while some are operated by the city’s parks and recreation committee. Check your local municipality’s website for contact information. If a garden doesn’t exist in your area, here’s some essential information on establishing one.
Some gardens designate plots that are collectively maintained for the purpose of donating all produce to a local food bank or homeless shelter. Other gardens choose to donate a portion of their private harvests in a similar manner.
Other gardens charge a nominal fee, like Banff Community Greenhouse in Alberta. The greenhouse is so popular, organizers had to implement a lottery system for the plots. There’s a $40 annual fee for seeds and a $20 damage fee which is returned at the end of the season if the plot is properly maintained.

The benefits of a community garden

Community gardens let volunteers network with their neighbours, get outdoors, and enjoy 100% local food. In Toronto, Guelph, and Hamilton, fruit and vegetable “gleaning programs” divert produce from becoming waste, which helps support local food banks.
At McGill University’s rooftop garden in Quebec, the “edible campus” bounty is shared with 100 local seniors who enjoy the ultra-fresh vegetables courtesy of Santropol Roulant’s community program. United by food and friendship, the program is one of many creative initiatives across the country. In the County and City of Peterborough, Ontario, 43 community gardens are located in municipal parks, schoolyards, churches, private properties, and communal boulevards making the gardening experience both accessible and inclusive to the region’s residents.

Plotting Ahead

There are many ways to emphasize the ‘community’ aspect of community gardens. Have a scarecrow-making contest, for example. Suggest casual outdoor potlucks for neighbourhood garden members with a guest speaker. Host a recipe and cookbook exchange or preserves swap. Seek out virtual workshops and Zoom lessons. Creating a private or public group forum on Facebook is free and opens a channel of constant communication for members with questions about how to deal with aphids or how to grow pole beans. The public forum Grow Food Toronto (on Facebook) is a valuable resource for all “cultivation activists” with more than 2,500 members providing ideas and inspiration for planting lots of food—and sharing it.
If you’re interested in starting up your own community garden, resources like Sustain Ontario’s Community Garden Network are designed to support community garden leaders and to help coach them in best practices, strategies and share grant opportunities.

Update on Canada’s 2021 Mortgage Rates

The Bank of Canada has kept its overnight lending rate target at its effective lower bound of 0.25 percent for more than a year to support the country’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as the country enters its second year of the pandemic, the Bank appears unlikely to change its tune anytime soon.

The Bank announced on March 10 that it would keep the overnight rate at 0.25 percent, possibly until 2023, during a regularly scheduled announcement. Furthermore, since August 2020, the conventional five-year mortgage rate has remained unchanged at 4.79 percent.

James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and President of CanWise Financial, explains the latest news on the Canadian mortgage market and how it may affect consumers in 2021.

What the latest Bank of Canada rate announcement means

In the mortgage industry, the Bank’s decision to keep the overnight rate at 0.25 percent was not unexpected, according to Laird. What’s more important, he says, is the Fed’s reaffirmation of its commitment to keep rates unchanged for another two years.

“That was notable because there was a lot of good news in the beginning of the year,” Laird explained.

Despite some positive developments in early 2021, such as the ongoing vaccine rollout and gradual economic recovery, Laird claims that unemployment in certain industries remains high. Many part-time and hourly workers in the hospitality, tourism, and retail industries were laid off as a result of the pandemic. Before changing rates, the Bank, according to Laird, will want to see the situation significantly improve.

“They pointed to that in the last announcement and said, ‘You know what? Even if there is good news on many fronts, we will continue to monitor this factor before changing our stance of keeping rates low until 2023,’” Laird said. “That will be something to keep an eye on.”

Despite the fact that mortgage rates have been and will likely remain low for some time, Laird explains that this is not the primary driving force behind Canada’s burgeoning real estate market. Instead, he attributes it to the pandemic’s influence on lifestyle changes. Many of us have reconsidered our living arrangements, especially those who now work from home, according to Laird, and this has prompted people to purchase a home that is better suited to their current needs.

“No one says, ‘I wasn’t planning on buying a house, but now that rates are low, I’m going to buy one.’ “It’s never happened before,” Laird said. “It’s other lifestyle factors that make you want to buy a new house or make changes to the one you have. Rates are only one factor in the equation.”

While the overnight rate that influences the mortgage market is expected to remain unchanged for the time being, fixed-rate and variable-rate mortgages have been gradually diverging in the first months of 2021. The overnight rate has a greater impact on variable rates because banks use it as a benchmark to determine their own prime rate, which is used to create variable mortgage rate offerings. Variable rates have remained virtually unchanged as a result of this. Fixed-rate mortgages, on the other hand, have been rising in price, prompting Laird to say that demand for variable-rate mortgages has increased.

“Now that fixed rates have risen a little, we are seeing more demand on the variable side,” Laird explained, “because the spread between variable and fixed rates is wider than it was before because variable rates haven’t changed at all.” “Fixed rates are still the most popular, but compared to a month ago, more people are opting for variable [rates].”

If you’re a new or current mortgage holder

Given the unusual economic conditions, the process of selecting a variable or fixed-rate mortgage may seem more daunting to prospective homebuyers. The decision to go with a fixed or variable rate, according to Laird, should be influenced by the holder’s own personal circumstances and strategies.
“There will never be a time when we recommend that everyone take fixed or variable. It all depends on the consumers’ situation, their household, and the type of people they are,” Laird explained.

Consumers who are more risk averse may want to opt for a fixed-rate mortgage rather than a variable-rate mortgage, according to Laird. If you have the financial flexibility to manage a variable rate if it rises, and you don’t mind a little risk, a variable rate could be a good fit for you.

Existing mortgage holders may be enticed to break their terms in order to chase a lower rate and save money for other projects if ultra-low mortgage rates become available. When it comes to fixed-rate mortgages, however, Laird points out that there are usually not many savings to be had because the penalty for breaking the mortgage could be equal to the savings—the lower the current market rates are, the higher the penalties for breaking the mortgage can be, he says. The proper steps in determining the best course of action are to obtain a mortgage penalty quote from your provider and then speak with your mortgage broker to work out the math.

“If you’re nearing the end of your term, it can make sense,” says Laird, “especially if you think rates will be higher by the time your renewal comes up.”

What’s on the horizon for mortgage rates in 2021

In terms of the future, Laird says it’s difficult to predict when the real estate market will cool down. Demand for Canadian housing has been rapidly increasing since mid-2020, and Laird expects this trend to continue throughout the spring market.
Variable rates are expected to stay the same in 2021, according to Laird, while fixed rates are expected to rise moderately. This year, he explains, optimism about vaccine distribution, unemployment levels, and a return to normalcy will play a role in rate forecasting.

“If you believe those things will happen, you should expect fixed rates to rise higher. If you’re pessimistic, you shouldn’t expect fixed rates to rise significantly,” Laird said. “We’re all individuals, and we each decide on our own rate strategy. That’s exactly what we discuss with our clients.”

DIY Bird Feeders and Birdhouses to Make Your Yard Sing

A bird house is one type of home with a view that comes with no mortgage! With spring in full bloom, we’re sharing some backyard birding tips, as well as information on birdseed and how to make a bird feeder or birdhouse. This spring and summer, create a safe and happy haven for birds, and enjoy your new feathered friends!

A feast for a finch

Feeding wildlife is generally frowned upon, but backyard birds are an exception. You can feed birds guilt-free because they don’t become reliant on feeders. Feeders should be cleaned on a regular basis, placed near but not too close to trees or shrubs, and at least four metres away from windows to help keep birds safe. Choose high-quality seeds such as sunflower or niger seeds instead of seed mixed with oats, rice, corn, or wheat, which can attract pests and provide fewer nutrients to birds. Look for birdseed that is suited to the birds in your area at your local garden or hardware store.

Build it and they shall come

Birdhouses are another option for attracting feathered visitors to your yard. Birds that nest in a natural nook, such as a tree cavity (such as chickadees or bluebirds), may choose a birdhouse if one is available. If you’re not sure what kind of birds might live in your yard, use the NestWatch Right Bird, Right House tool to look for feathered tenants and learn about their housing needs.

Build a DIY birdfeeder with the kids

Make this easy DIY bird feeder project with the kids using items you probably already have around the house! Cleaning out a used milk carton and cutting out two squares on opposite sides of the carton are the first steps. Allow the carton to dry before painting it a colour of your choice and adding shingles to the roof with popsicle sticks. Make two small holes on either side of the carton and insert a wooden dowel or plant stick to provide a place for birds to stand. Make sure to keep an eye on your homemade bird feeder and, if necessary, replace or repair it.

If you’re worried about pesky critters like squirrels or chipmunks being attracted to your birdfeeder, this list of DIY hacks can ‘squirrel-proof’ your creation and leave the feed for the intended audience: the birds.

Tea for two and two for tea

This teacup bird feeder is fun to make, easy to put together, and will look lovely in any backyard. Begin by selecting a lovely teacup and saucer from your own collection, or go to a thrift store to find one. Before letting it dry, adhere the cup to the saucer with craft glue (like e6000) and a glue gun, then hang it up with twine. Fill the teacup with your favourite seed and wait for the birds to arrive for an afternoon tea party hosted by you.

Birdhouses that keep up with the trends

A-frames are making a comeback, and this one for backyard birds will stand out in your garden. A handheld drill, craft knife, glue, a wooden dowel, birch wood, and balsa wood are all needed for this modern birdhouse DIY, which can be found at a hardware store. Because the wood can be cut with a craft knife and then assembled with glue—no saw or nails required—building this birdhouse is simple for anyone of any skill level.

Leave it to the pros (and the crows)

Preassembled birdhouses can be found for as little as a few dollars at craft stores like Michaels. For a natural look that will weather in your yard, leave the birdhouse bare. Use non-toxic paint or stain to add colour to this kid-friendly DIY that doesn’t require any tools or glue. Use sandpaper to go over painted or stained surfaces to let the wood show through for a natural but colourful birdhouse. Watch the birds flock to your yard by hanging a single or coordinated group of feeders.

Whether you put up a birdhouse or a bird feeder in your yard this spring, you’ll love seeing who comes to visit. Set up a camera and watch who comes by if you really want to know who is coming to visit!